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Nadeem F. Paracha Sunday, 20 Jun, 2010
Many Arab as well as some western academics (who were paid large sums of money and perks) were continuously invited to the rich, conservative kingdoms and asked to scribble books claiming that the Muslim holy book was punctuated with scientific truths hundreds of years before the West discovered them in their labs. — Illustration by Abro
I am itching to get my hands on a recently published book, God Created the Universe by Fatehulla Khan. After reading the review of the book, I can safely assume it is yet another document in the long line of glorified assertions that much of what we call scientific truths today was mentioned in the scriptures a long time ago. Ever since the late French physician, Maurice Bucaille — on a hefty payroll of the Saudi royal family in Riyadh — wrote Islam, Bible & Science (1976), many believe that ‘proving’ scientific truths from holy books has been the exclusive domain of Muslims. However, in spite of being impressed by the holy book’s ‘scientific wonders’, Bucaille remained a committed Christian. Very few of my wide-eyed brethren know that long before Muslims, certain Hindu and Christian theologians had already laid claim to the practice of defining their respective holy books as metaphoric prophecies of scientifically proven phenomenon. They began doing so between the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas Muslims got into the act only in the 20th century. Johannes Heinrich’s Scientific vindication of Christianity (1887) is one example, while
Mohan Roy’s Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism (1999) is a good way of observing how this thought has evolved among followers of other faiths. It is interesting to note how a number of Muslim ‘scientists’ have laboured hard to come up with convoluted interpretations of certain scriptures. Ironically, their ancient counterparts, especially between the 8th and 13th centuries in Baghdad and Persia, had put all effort in trying to understand natural phenomena and the human body and mind through hardcore science and philosophy. Those great men of Islamic antiquity weren’t over-reading into divine texts for scientific answers; instead, to them God’s command to reflect on nature and the world around them was enough to inspire them to become dedicated rational scientists and philosophers. They were celebrated not only by Muslims, but humanity at large for their scientific prowess. But, alas, beginning around the early 1970s, with the collapse of a secular nationalist mindset in the Muslim world, and the rise in influence of totalitarian oil-rich puritanical monarchies, Muslim polities and mindset began to suspect science as a tool of western and communist social engineering and imperialism. Whereas the wealthy monarchies remained firmly in the western camp during the Cold War, they aggressively proliferated reactionary literature that attacked both western and Marxist ideas across the Muslim world. Added to this was the propagated perception that modern science was the creation of the continuing Judo-Christian tradition (nay, ‘conspiracy’) aimed at undermining Islam. Many Arab as well as some western academics (who were paid large sums of money and perks) were continuously invited to the rich, conservative kingdoms and asked to scribble books claiming that the Muslim holy book was punctuated with scientific truths hundreds of years before the West discovered them in their labs. This practice — clearly emerging from a mixture of an inferiority complex and the passion for shouting down modern liberal and leftist notions — sanctified myopia and an unscientific bent of mind in the Muslim world. As many Muslim scientists such as Ziauddin Sardar and Pervez Hoodbhoy, and renowned Islamic scholars like Muhammad Akhund, have already lamented, Muslims through such literature are actually encouraged to drop out of any field or lab work required for genuine scientific research. Many are persuaded to follow the belief that all they need to know about science is already in the holy book.
Rationalist Islamic scholars have been insisting throughout the 20th century to date that the holy book is less a book of laws or science. It is an elaborate moral guide for Muslims in which God has given the individual the freewill to decide for him or herself through exerting their mental faculties and striving to gain more empirical knowledge. Iranian writer, Vali Reza Nasr, is right to mourn the trend today that though most Muslims are quick to adopt western science, they simply refuse to assume a rational scientific mindset. No wonder then, for example, most Pakistanis still don’t have a clue about what the country’s only Nobel Prize winning scientist, Dr Abdus Salam, got the award for, but many are quick to quote from books written by super cranks like Harun Yahya and Maurice Bucaille, explaining how things like the Big Bang and others are endorsed in the holy book. In addition to such claptrap, there are already books out there claiming that electricity can be generated from jinns. A whole session was organised in Islamabad in the late 1980s during the Ziaul Haq regime in which fringe crackpots (disguised as scientists) were invited by the dictator to determine the ‘speed of heaven’, and how to overcome the energy crisis with the aid of jinns! So why read books of science, or enter a lab to understand the many workings of God’s nature and creatures; just read the holy book. Who knows you may find a theory on time travel and laser guns in it as well? Forget about all those great Muslim scientists of yore, or Abdus Salam, Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Just get in touch with your friendly neighbourhood jinn for all your energy needs.